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A World Waiting To Be Offended. A Society Waiting To Judge. But Hiding Is Not An Option.

I met a high school friend for lunch a week ago. I was passing through town on one of my multi-tasking trips: A visit to Minnesota to meet my new granddaughter. A speaking engagement in nearby New Brighton. A domestic pilgrimage to a shrine and a grotto.

We caught up on things and chatted about old friends, where there are, what they are doing. In the course of conversation, we talked about two friends in particular and how they both seem to suffer from agoraphobia. They keep to themselves. Nobody knows what they’re up to these days. While we might have guessed it about one of the two back in high school, neither of us could have predicted a reclusive personality when it came to the second friend. She had been homecoming queen. She was a cheerleader, back in the day.

I think I surprised Sheryl when I admitted that I have some of those same tendencies. I get it. I have to override it.

And I fell somewhere in the middle back in high school. Social, yes. But no homecoming queen.

Life happened, I explained. I got married. Put all my trust in someone. And that person stopped loving me. If anyone was supposed to be successful at marriage, it was a pastor and his wife. But we had issues.

I learned to deal with them privately. When you are the pastor’s wife, you don’t share. Your parents might know, and maybe one friend. But the congregation has to stay clueless. There’s the ministry to consider.

That’s what the-man-who-was-supposed-to-love-forever said when he told me it was time for me to take the kids and move in with my parents.

I left. And I took the life lessons with me. Like keeping all things private. Living life behind closed doors. And from that point forward, always being aware that someone you love may walk away. He may say he loves you, and then go on to marry four or five other women and have babies with two them. What you thought you know, what you thought was solid ground, was nothing of the sort.

I married again (a marriage that was blessed by the Church after I converted to the Catholic faith).

But this time, it was my family that reinforced the lessons on keeping it private.

My husband was in his late twenties (I was 32). He had never been married. Had no children of his own. He had to get up to speed with all of that overnight – under the watchful eye of a mother-in-law, a father-in-law, and a sister-in-law who lived five minutes away and a larger extended family that was all curious about how things were going for Denise and her new husband. I became more private. I created space around us.

I wanted to create a family out of the ashes, and I knew that couldn’t happen if my family sat in the seat of judgment.

As the children grew and began to leave home, I realized that I had issues.

My favorite place was home. I didn’t go out of my way to socialize. I let the answering machine get the calls. I begged my husband to set up the repairman visits and meet them at the door while I hung out in the bedroom with our dog.

The world is full of people who are waiting to be offended. It was better to not give them a reason to be offended.

The world is full of people who judge. It was better to not give them information that generated judgment.

And then, I became Catholic.

There is something about being Catholic that absolutely will not permit you to stay comfortably reclusive like a Jesus-and-me-only faith. This faith has Mass – seven days a week. This faith has communion of all sorts. This faith has the confessional.

And it was the confessional where change first began.

I won’t go into the details, and really, I’m not sure I could explain how it happened. I began to see the problem – and want to change it. I began giving talks to parishes and doing radio spots. The Catholic writer was leaving her comfort zone. People look at me and probably think that I am extroverted. Maybe once. Maybe in high school. But this is my mission. This is my gift to God. I don’t go out and meet the crowds because I like the attention. Maybe some people do it for that reason. Not me.

I do it because I am called to do it. Freely, I was given this faith. Freely, I will share it. And I will do it with joy and with a smile. And I will wrestle this fear to the ground every time I bear witness, if necessary.

Last May, I traveled abroad for the first time in twenty-five years. That trip stripped the final vestiges of a reclusive spirit from me.

And I wanted to open my arms and embrace the world around me.

I had been buttoned-up for too long.

When we become adults, we are used to doing things when we want and how we want. There is no parent to tell us to be more this or more that. Nobody corrects us when things get out of whack. Nobody is standing behind us saying, get out there and meet some people, make some friends.

And the years pass. Life happens. Old friends grow distant.

New friendships don’t come along.

We button ourselves up, and we like it that way.

I don’t think Jesus thinks much of that kind of life, though. Fear and distrust and bitterness – He comes to break those walls. Then, He sends us out to be His hands and feet and beating heart to another. He gives us talents. We are to share them. He weaves a story with our lives. We are to bear witness to it.

This Son of God could have stayed in Heaven and let us all just muddle through on our own, but He entered our world. He went into the highways and byways. He encountered the very ones who would nail Him to a cross – and still, he let them into His world. He wasn’t an attention seeker. He wasn’t trying to gain a stage.

He wanted to love them.

No buttoned-up life for the Son of God. And no matter how hard it is to break out of our comfort zone, there should be no buttoned-up life for us either.

The world awaits.

And I will not hide.

 Let us go out to meet that world. You come, too.


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